From digging to education – a volunteers story

Stonehenge_Sonia Heywood_DP149841

Sonia is one of the Interpretation Volunteers in the Neolithic Houses and here she tells us about her experience. 

I’ve been volunteering since 2006 both for the National Trust and for English Heritage, for English Heritage I mainly do education visits.

I am retired, but as busy as I ever was when working. I am a keen botanist and do plant surveys as a volunteer. I am improving my French via local classes. I enjoy walking which includes taking people for walks in the Stonehenge landscape. I am also a voluntary henge guide at Avebury.

I recently attended a training session which was all about the evidence basis for the Neolithic houses and how to show visitors the houses.

One of the most interesting things I learnt at the training session was the fact that there is so little evidence about daily life in the Neolithic – so that evidence has to be drawn from a wide range of places. It also shows how important the discoveries at Durrington Walls are. As well as being interesting, the training sessions in the Neolithic houses were great fun.

I was part of the Durrington Walls excavation so have known about the discoveries from the beginning. I have taken people to see the site, but it is only at the reconstructions that they come alive 

Thanks Sonia, what would you say to others who are thinking about volunteering? 

Go ahead, it is a great team to be part of, there’s lots of training and support. You can fit the volunteering round other commitments. It’s really fun and you learn a lot.

If you would like to find out about becoming a volunteer at Stonehenge, please visit the English Heritage website. There are lots of different opportunities avaialable – from running school visits, interpreting the houses and working in the exhibitions.


Neolithic knee prints?

neolithic dresser

It is very exciting when archaeological evidence allows us to reconstruct or imagine small intimate details of the lives of people who lived thousands of years ago. The hard chalk floors of the Neolithic Houses excavated at Durrington Walls shed light on some of the domestic activities of the people who lived there – the people who may have built or used Stonehenge.

neo fire

In one of the houses, just by the central hearth, two indentations were found and it has been suggested that these could be knee prints – from somebody spending long hours, day after day kneeling by the fireplace, tending the fire and cooking.

It is unlikely we will ever be able to prove or disprove this theory but reconstructing these houses has allowed us to see how the building materials work and how they settle. When the houses open in June, we will begin to observe the impact that general use and traffic will have on the chalk floors. The fires will be lit, the floors will be swept, people will be walking through, and generally interacting with the houses on a daily basis.

What do you think? Are these knee prints or just naturally occurring indentations in the hard chalk floor?

knee prints 1knee prints 2

Thanks very much to Kate Welham of Bournemouth University and the Riverside Project for letting us use these two images of the floor of House 851 – which show the ‘knee-shaped’ indentations to the left of the circular hearth. Also visible are the beam-slot indentations where wooden furniture once stood around the edge of the floor.

nick jones twitter image finished

photo by volunteer house builder Nick Jones

There are still opportunities to get involved with the Neolithic Houses – we are recruiting for interpretation and education volunteers! Click here to find out more 

Meet the Team: Nick Jones, Neolithic House Volunteer

Meet the team: Nick Jones

Meet the team: Nick Jones

The project is coming on a pace, despite the awful weather we have been having, which has meant that we’ve had to cancel one or two days builds.

Each week of the build we will be meeting one of the team of hardy volunteers who are braving the rain, wind and mud! This week we meet Nick Jones.

What made you want to get involved with the Neolithic Houses project?

I saw it as a wonderful learning opportunity – something that would improve my understanding of the Stonehenge World Heritage Site, and hopefully make me a better tour guide. I like working out of doors (my background is in architecture and environmental education), and I thought, ‘How extraordinary to be able to influence the Stonehenge landscape!’

What are you enjoying about the project so far?

It is giving me all I hoped for, and more. I enjoy the practical construction process, and the interesting questions continually being raised, but I also enjoy the growing bond between the volunteers. Although we came with diverse interests, motivations and expectations, we now have a strong sense of common purpose and pride in doing something special. I suspect it will last beyond the project, and I hope it will bring us back together to do other things.

Is there any part of the project that you’re particularly looking forward to or that you are particularly interested in?

Not really. I enjoy it all, although I am looking forward to Mother Nature actually letting us get on with the job! I am interested in finding out more about climate changes since the end of the last Ice Age, and how these may have influenced how people lived and the monuments they built.

In what ways has being involved in this project made you think differently about the people of Stonehenge and their lives?

I have always wondered how the monument came about. ‘OK lads, I’ve got an idea. Trust me, it will look great when it’s finished! All we have to do is walk 180 miles to Preseli and…”  Who was in charge, who was navigating, and who made the sandwiches? The project has made me think about all the other people and processes that supported everyday life: the woodland managers, who produced coppice for building; the flint knappers, who made and repaired all the axes; the chalk-pounders, who made daub for the walls and laid the floors; the thatchers, who collected and fixed the various materials to keep the rain out; and so on. House building was probably a cultural institution – ie everyone joined in, and everyone knew what needed to be done – fun for all the family!

What do you do when you’re not building Neolithic houses?

In the summer I am a driver guide, which means I drive mostly well-off, and mostly American, tourists around England and Wales. They stay in 5* hotels, and I get a B&B down the road. I specialise in World Heritage Sites – places like Bath (where I live), Blenheim Palace, the Jurassic Coast etc – but I also do a lot of the Cotswolds, Oxford, Stratford upon Avon, and so on. I love exploring new places! I also do a bit of consultancy in world heritage matters. Apart from that, I do a lot of ironing and hoovering because my partner has a proper job.

What would you say to people who are tempted to volunteer at Stonehenge?

I might say remember Oscar Wilde, who said, ‘I can resist anything except temptation’. But he also said, ”It is better to have a permanent income than to be fascinating’. So, I would say, ‘Ignore Oscar Wilde!’ What you want to find at Stonehenge, you probably will.


Thanks Nick!

Additional Volunteering Opportunities

If you are interested in beoming a Stonehenge Neolithic House Interpretation Volunteer, you can find out more on the English Heritage website. As a Neolithic House Interpretation Volunteer you will be responsible for maintaining the Neolithic houses once they are built (which weather permitting will be by the end of April), by lighting fires and assisting with the building maintenance.  You will bring the stories of the Neolithic people to life in our external galleries and provide a warm and friendly welcome for all visitors, helping us to deliver a world class visitor experience.